Appreciation: Charles Notcutt OBE, horticulturalist

Charles Notcutt OBE (left), esteemed horticulturalist whose great love was the Scottish Highlands. Picture: Contributed
Charles Notcutt OBE (left), esteemed horticulturalist whose great love was the Scottish Highlands. Picture: Contributed
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Born: 30 May, 1934, in Ipswich. Died: 1 July, 2015, in Woodbridge, Suffolk, aged 81.

Charles Notcutt always strongly identified with Scotland. His mother Jean (née) Macpherson gave him his Scottish roots and he was brought up in Edinburgh, from the age of four, and educated at the Edinburgh Academy (where his grandfather Charles Macpherson had been treasurer in the 1920s). While he travelled enthusiastically across the world to all continents, it was the Scottish Highlands which remained his true love, and to which he annually returned. His home was Suffolk, but his heart was certainly Scottish.

He could be relied to be in his Macpherson kilt at any significant occasion and was a lively Scottish dancer and lover of the bagpipes.

He was an inspirational and popular leader of the horticultural community, establishing and developing many trade bodies, as well as education and research in the field. He dedicated substantial time and energy to this emanating from his passion for trees and plants.

He was instrumental in the rapid growth of Notcutts, which was founded as a family nursery business in 1897 by his grandfather, and which he pioneered as a nationally known group of garden centres. It remains the UK’s largest family-owned garden centre company, with 18 centres nationwide.

He joined the business in 1958, the year the business created the first garden centre in the country in Woodbridge, Suffolk. During his tenure the company won many gold medals over a long period at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, building on a successful family record since 1912, the start of the show.

He had close involvement with the RHS itself, being a member of the RHS Council for ten years, and was significantly involved in judging.

He was a great champion of the RHS shows. He was particularly keen to make a real success of the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, which he saw would make it possible for the nurserymen to sell plants in significant volumes, unlike at Chelsea. He was a tower of common sense within the RHS.

When there was a move to alert the public to the dangers of poisonous plants, Notcutt pointed out that putting a skull and cross bones on the plant labels was not exactly going to help promote sales and thus the idea was dropped.

He was heavily involved with the HTA (Horticultural Trades Association) from 1959 to 1971 and when a separate association was created in 1966 for the Garden Centres (GCA) he was the first chairman. This representation and forum for the industry was important as garden centres expanded nationally and became ever popular. His natural ebullience was infectious and he could always be relied upon for supportive advice to his peers.

As horticulturalists lacked a professional body of their own, he became one of the steering committee founding the Institute of Horticulture in 1984, its first treasurer and subsequent president in 1987.

Charles Roger Macpherson Notcutt was born in Ipswich in 1934, the only child of Roger Notcutt and wife Jean. His mother provided him with his Scottish roots and his father was the second generation of Notcutt nurserymen.

Charles’s father died when he was only four years old and he and his mother moved back to live in Edinburgh. He was educated at Edinburgh Academy. After two years national service as a 2nd Lieutenant with the Royal Artillery in Hong Kong and Germany he decided to join the family nursery business.

Having trained at Pershore Institute of Horticulture, he returned to Woodbridge in 1958 and was appointed director of the firm in 1961, becoming managing director in 1964, and chairman in 1974.

Having built up his trusted team at Woodbridge, Charles steadily developed the Notcutts chain of garden centres across England, always emphasising their horticultural excellence.

Amongst the many honours given to him, Charles was awarded the Horticultural Trades Association Pearson Memorial Medal in 1977 (awarded for outstanding services to horticulture). Notcutt received the prestigious Victoria Medal of Honour (one of only 63 at any one time, being the number of years in the reign of Queen Victoria) in Notcutts’ centenary year of 1997.

In 1993 he was awarded the OBE for his services to horticulture.

As well as being a charismatic and passionate man, he had great warmth and a wonderful zest for life with a great capacity for friendship. He was charitable and generous with his time, beyond his immediate family. So many horticultural organisations, both national and local, benefited from his enthusiasm, steadfast loyalty and commitment.

Notcutt was vice chairman of the Perennial Society, chairman of the Joint NFU and Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) Nursery Stock Committee, and on the NFU Nursery Stock Committee. He was also a committee member with the Worshipful Company of Gardeners, the Tree Council and the Farmers Club.

He was also much involved in horticultural education with Writtle College Essex, Otley College Suffolk and the NFU Horticultural Development and Education Committee.

His interested in research and the technical problems of plant production led him to be involved with the East Malling Research Station, the John Ines Research Institute, and the Glasshouse Crops Research Institute.

He was president of the Suffolk Agricultural Association, president of the Woodbridge Rotary Club and also founding chairman of the the Abbeyfields Deben Extra Care Society in Woodbridge. He became elected to Woodbridge Town Council in 2009-2015 and served as Mayor in 2012/13.

He didn’t waste his time – he was always looking forward to the next thing on the agenda. (That might well describe his approach to meetings, when he was in the chair.) Notcutt was awarded an honorary doctorate in civil law from the University of East Anglia in 2001.

Charles married Angela Morris in 1964 and they had three children – Caroline, William and Andrew. This marriage ended in divorce and in 1977 he married his widowed cousin Gill Hutchinson.

Charles loved travel and trees, enthusiastically and happily combining these two in his membership of the International Dendrology Society, acting as chairman of its tours committee during 2002-2008, an ideal role for him.

His own travels covered all seven continents, including trekking to Mount Everest with his younger son and also visiting several of the world’s volcanoes with him.

His great love, though, were always the Scottish Highlands.

There was a wonderful celebration in 2008 when Charles commemorated his 50 years working for the family firm. The affection from his staff, whom he was always so loyal to, was palpable.

He continued in a lifelong role as Notcutts president. It was a proud moment for him when his daughter Caroline was appointed vice-chairman.

He is survived by his three children, from his first marriage, and eight grandchildren.